Imperial Presidency: Overview
In his book, The Imperial Presidency, Arthur Schlesinger recounts the rise of the presidency as it grew into the imperial, powerful position that it is today. His writing reflects a belief that the presidency is becoming too powerful and that very few people are making a real effort to stop it. He analyzes the back and forth struggle for power between Congress and the Presidency. Schlesinger breaks up the first half of the book chronologically. He begins by discussing the areas concerning the presidency where the founding fathers agreed and also the areas where they disagreed. He then goes on to analyze the rise of the imperial presidency through war and recovery, with emphasis on the events of the twentieth century. After the war in Vietnam, Schlesinger divides the book based on the specific nature of the events that had an impact on presidential power. He divides it based on domestic policy, foreign policy, and the affairs that go on in secrecy.
Schlesinger provides an incredible amount of evidence to recount the ups and downs of the imperial presidency. He provides a base for his argument with an in-depth view of what the framers intended and how they set the stage for development over the next two centuries. An issue that Schlesinger focuses on is the presidents ability to make war. The decisions of the founders in this area would have a huge impact on the power contained in the office of the president. The consensus amongst the framers was that the president, as Commander in Chief, had the ability to defend the United States and its interests, but the ability to declare war was vested in the Congress. This decision set the stage for the struggles between the president and congress. He also discussed the debate over the power institutionalized in the presidency. At the time, there were two schools of thought on the subject. Hamilton supported an active president, while Jefferson argued in favor of a passive president. The final draft included a compromise of the two theories. There was also some debate over the power of the president versus the power of congress. Additionally, there was a compromise made over this issue when writing the final draft. The spirit of compromise amongst the founders was what provided a viable and secure base for the future of the presidency.
After his discussion of the founders, Schlesinger shifts to the president's powers of war. He analyzes every war, excluding the Revolution, that the United States has participated in up to and including the war in Vietnam. He discusses the specifics of each scenario and the way in which the president handles it. Schlesinger develops the slowly growing power of the presidency by recounting the actions that the president carried out on his own as well as those that required the consent of Congress to be accomplished. As time progressed, Schlesinger made note of all the major events that increased and decreased the power of the presidency. For example, he discusses the almost dictatorial power of Lincoln during the Civil War and then the impeachment of Andrew Johnson shortly thereafter. These are two events that are indicative of the seesaw struggle between the presidency and Congress. Schlesinger goes on to discuss additional examples of conflict between the presidency and Congress such as the dominance of Congress during the late 1800's, the annexation of Texas, the Great Depression, W.W.II, the Korean War, and the war in Vietnam.
Schlesinger focuses a great deal of attention on the events of the twentieth century, because, in part, this was when the power of the presidency vaulted to the level that it currently maintains. The reason for this, in addition to what the early presidents had done, was that the government was growing fast and the role of the government was increasing. There were many gray areas in which the president could extend his power. The power of the president to make war as Commander in Chief...
Bibliography: Imperial Presidency
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston 1973
copyright © 1973 by Arthur Schlesinger
Simon & Schuster
copyright © 1986 by Macmillan College
Publishing Company, Inc
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